Career Path

Passionate about flying

by Susie Lunt

Antony Fung,
Senior First Officer,
Cathay Pacific Airways

Legend has it that little kids dream of being train drivers or flying rockets once they grow up, but Antony Fung clearly had other ideas. "I always wanted to become a pilot," he laughs. "I once saw an airline advertisement with a kid in the cabin of an aircraft, and he peeped through the cockpit and saw many buttons. And that's what I saw. I was amazed by the buttons in the cockpit, and then I started to be interested ... Maybe, one day, I could fly this machine!"

Today, Mr Fung serves as a Senior First Officer with Cathay Pacific Airways - one of 1,600 pilots currently working for the airline. As a Cadet Pilot, he trained in Scotland in 1989 before stepping up the ladder to Second Officer. Career highlights include his first solo flight and his upgrade to Junior First Officer, First Officer and, today, Senior First Officer.

No two days the same

Day-to-day work, he says, is both detailed and varied, whether on regional routes (operated by a two-pilot crew) or longhaul flights (with a three- or four-pilot crew). "From the time we report, we look at documents and flight planning. We see how much fuel we're going to use, [plus] our route, the weather - there are a lot of things to look at - and we go into the aircraft and prepare. We take off, cruise, land... and that's it!"

"You really have to know about the job first, and then decide if you want to take it up. You can't stop in the middle. Make sure that you're really interested."

"The flying's the best part," he continues. "If you love flying, it gives you satisfaction. You meet many challenges daily, because every time you go flying the weather's different, you always fly with different people - all sorts of things are different."

A life-long commitment

While the path from training to captain takes approximately 13 to 14 years (with retirement at 55), Mr Fung is adamant that everything boils down to a genuine love of being a pilot.

"You really have to know about the job first, and then decide if you want to take it up. You can't stop in the middle. Make sure that you're really interested."

Peggy Chung, Cathay Pacific's Assistant Manager, Flight Crew Recruitment adds: "It's not just about ability - it's about the passion to fly. We're talking about a life-long career! If you don't like flying and treat it as a job, you'll get a lot more pressure, because you can't derive [job] satisfaction."

Not just for the boys

Although having an undergraduate degree or science subjects at matriculation is a must to apply for the Cadet Pilot Programme, previous flying experience is not required. Rather, the emphasis lies on personality, according to Mr Fung. "[Candidates] need to be flexible, practical, open and sociable. Because we always work in a team, we need to co-operate. The technical side's important as well. You need to keep up-to-date with the manuals and operating procedures... and you need to be alert all the time."

Budding pilots should also bear in mind that assessment and re-training are constant factors, with half-yearly stints on the flight simulator as well as annual fight assessments called "line check" in the aircraft. Likewise, medical health is essential. "If there's anything wrong with your body and you've failed your medical, your licence is lost as well ..."

A misconception relates to the belief that women cannot be pilots. "Everything's the same for female pilots!" explains Ms Chung. "Many people think it's strictly for males, which isn't true. We have over 20 foreign female pilots and around ten local women. And everything's the same, starting from Day One. That's proof that we don't discriminate and that they have the same ability to do the job."

Although being a pilot requires training, it doesn't require a special kind of person to do it. "If it suits your personality and if you've got the ability, you could be a pilot. This work isn't uncommon; it's just uncommon in Hong Kong because people are not in touch with the aviation industry."

China Opportunities

Theoretically, there's nothing to stop any pilot from working anywhere. Ms Chung notes, "If you have a licence, it's yours as a crew member. Depending on your contract terms, you may not be tied to any company and you can fly with any airline. However, you do need to consider that seniority is a factor in promotion." However, whether positions are actually available on the mainland is another question. "I think the mainland has its own universities and training centres, and [airlines] are also supplied with people from the military. So it's a conscious decision on their side," she explains.


Taken from Career Times 06 December 2002, p. 26
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